Summer travel picnic: pesto, chicken & corn

Summer travel picnic: pesto, chicken & corn

For the next couple of posts, we'll been doing the reverse of “bringing the taste of travel back home.” When we're faced with long road trips in the summer, we often resort to dishes that bring the taste of home out on the road. One of our stand-bys for rest-stop picnics or campground suppers is a pasta dish we call “pesto salad.” That's shorthand. The dish evolved pretty much by accident. We grow a lot of basil in our garden. When it flowers madly in hot weather, we keep the growing tips clipped to prolong the season. That means we have a gallon or so of basil sprigs every few days. Since it doesn't refrigerate well, we turn it into pesto, adding a lot of...Read More
Tart, picante, and salty—Tajín hits the Mexican spot

Tart, picante, and salty—Tajín hits the Mexican spot

A bartender at the Occidental Cozumel resort in Mexico ( introduced us to Tajín, the blend of lime, chile peppers, and sea salt that seems to be one of the country's favorite seasonings. It's produced in Zapopan from mild chiles grown in the region. The company aims for a mix with a lot of flavor and just enough heat to keep the taste buds alert. Tajín certainly did the trick rimming the glass of a cucumber habañero margarita. The manufacturer suggests sprinkling Tajín on everything from marinated beef and vegetable skewers to chicken salad sandwiches and avocado ice cream. The web site ( offers a recipe for the popular street food esquites. The concoction of corn kernels, cheese, chiles, cotija cheese, and mayonnaise is served...Read More
Pueblo re-creation conjures Mayan past

Pueblo re-creation conjures Mayan past

Little remains of the eight villages established by the Mayans on the island of Cozumel. But two years ago, the Pueblo del Maiz (Carretera Transversal, Camino á San Gervasio km 5, Cozumel, Mexico; +1 984-146-5771) opened to show how the ancient Mayans lived. The complex is centered around a series of thatched roof huts called palapas and populated with guides in often rather dramatic traditional dress. From the start, a visit has a great sense of ceremony. After I had been cleansed with fragrant smoke, I made an offering of cacao beans to a goddess and then planted a couple seeds of corn in the dark earth. It quickly became clear that growing, harvesting, and preparing food was a large part of Mayan life. In...Read More

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Toronto's playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue. The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and...Read More

Lexington chefs show true grits

The fried oysters with cheese-sausage grits at Nick Ryan's (157 Jefferson St., Lexington; 859-233-7900; were real eye-openers, since both the batter on the bivalves and the grits had striking corn flavor. Then we tried the shrimp and grits at Coles (735 Main St., Lexington, 859-266-9000;, and had the same epiphany. There was really something special about the grits these Lexington, Kentucky chefs were using. Few restaurants have the luxury of using freshly ground, locally grown grains with the germ intact, which gives a much more profound flavor than nationally distributed products where the germ is removed to make them more shelf-stable. The difference is comparable to fresh sweet corn as opposed to corn picked a week earlier and shipped across the country. We...Read More

Grits with black truffle and poached eggs

As Pat and I developed ways to use black truffles, we generally opted for the simplest and most straightforward combinations. Keeping in mind that truffles pair well with corn—and that northern Italians sometimes eat truffles on polenta—we decided to try truffles with some of the best grits we've been able to lay hands on. We'll be writing shortly about our food and drink visit to central Kentucky, where we had the good fortune to drive from Lexington out to Midway to visit Weisenberger Mill. This is a truly old-fashioned mill that has been stone-grinding grain for six generations, starting in 1865. Living in Yankeeville, we have a hard time finding good white grits, but now know we can order them online from Weisenberger at More

Corn ravioli with Australian black truffles

I received a shipment of truffles from the Truffle and Wine Company ( early this month. The truffles are spectacular, but it's not like I can tuck them away to use weeks from now. They have to be eaten quickly, which means developing a bunch of ways to use them with summer produce. For the last 10 days, Pat and I have been cooking with black truffles, repeating some favorite dishes and trying to create some new ones. We'll be posting new recipes in quick succession in case you want to order some truffles yourself before the season ends next month. When I was working on the Robb Report story, I spoke to a number of American chefs who exulted in using the Australian black...Read More

What to eat at the airport: Chicago O’Hare

Maybe it's the feel-good endorphins released when we eat chile peppers, or perhaps it's just the simple combinations of strong flavors, but when we're truly stuck at the airport, nothing soothes our frazzled nerves better than good Mexican food. When American canceled our flight from Dallas to Albuquerque, we had time to discover the healing power of the chicken and green chile tamales at Pappasito's Cantina at DFW. (See this post for details.) Yesterday, when American summarily canceled our flight from Chicago O'Hare to Lexington, Kentucky, we headed directly to Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless. We've been fans of his food for years, and find that the recipes in his cookbooks are among some of the best for reproducing authentic Mexican dishes at home. It's...Read More

Sweet corn tamales with black truffle

During last July's research trip to Australia, I babied a single prize black truffle all the way home. I kept it cool inside a rigid plastic box wrapped with absorbent paper that I changed every 12 hours so it wouldn't get too moist. When asked at Border Control if I had any fresh food, I said, “yes, a black truffle.” The agent said, “OK,” and waved me through. The real question was what to make with this spectacular faceted lump (see above) that was an 80-gram culinary gem? How could I stretch it as far as possible without skimping on the flavor in each dish? After an indulgent meal of black truffle sliced over buttered pasta (see last post), I decided to set aside the...Read More